Jury: School bus driver not guilty

Published 10:15 am Friday, June 17, 2016

Photo submitted/Circuit Court Clerk Dustin Bairfield reads out a verdict Thursday of not guilty at the conclusion of the two-day trial of Charles R. Davis.

Photo submitted/Circuit Court Clerk Dustin Bairfield reads out a verdict Thursday of not guilty at the conclusion of the two-day trial of Charles R. Davis.

A Lincoln County jury returned a verdict of not guilty Thursday in the touching and handling case against school bus driver Charles R. Davis.

The prosecution’s case in the two-day trial continued Thursday morning with testimony from the alleged victim’s babysitter. She was the first to see Davis and the 10-year-old girl following the incident. The babysitter described the girl’s behavior as “happy go lucky.”

The adult babysitter is not be identified by name because she is a close friend of the girl’s family and it could reveal the girl’s identity.

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The alleged victim took the stand Thursday and testified Davis, who drove for West Lincoln Attendance Center, pulled her pants with her panties down from the front of the waist while on the bus. When she told him to stop, Davis did and told her not to tell anyone, and she agreed, she said.

“He was touching my legs,” the girl said.

“I lied,” she said in her testimony in court. “I knew it was important to tell somebody what he was doing.”

But she didn’t tell anyone immediately. When asked in the cross-examination why she behaved “happy go lucky” following the incident, she said she wanted to try and forget it happened.

“I was trying to see if I could just get over it,” she said.

She told her parents that night after they left for a weekend vacation. The girl told her mother, who then told her husband.  “I went to my husband and told him, ‘We’ve got a problem,’” the girl’s mother testified.

Davis was arrested on the charges in September. He was indicted Nov. 20.

Leading up to the incident, the mother said she did have a talk with her daughter about what to do if someone tried to touch her inappropriately. She felt uncomfortable, she said, because her daughter had told her that her bus driver was giving her hugs and calling her his best friend.

Jade Douglas with the Children’s Advocacy Center also testified for the prosecution. Douglas interviewed the girl shortly after the incident and acted as the prosecution’s expert testimony.

Douglas testified that the girl was a rare case in that she disclosed the incident within a few hours of it happening. Many children, she said, will wait weeks, months and years before telling an adult.

A video recording of the interview between Douglas and the girl was played for the jury. Douglas said her questions were designed to be non-leading, but in the case of the girl, she gave what Douglas described as a “spontaneous disclosure” within a few minutes of introducing herself.

Douglas also described the grooming process to the jury, where an alleged offender will often give gifts to children and set up scenarios for them to be alone.

Sharon Spanial, Davis’ niece, was also a witness for the prosecution. Spanial alleged that Davis would touch her under the covers when she was sleeping at her grandfather’s house when she was about 5.

She said her grandmother told her not to mention it to anyone, and she continued to come to her grandfather’s house because it felt safer after her own father’s verbal abuse at home.

In cross examination, the defense asked Spanial why she was disclosing this now after 40 years.

“It hit social media,” she said. “I saw so many people belittling the child. I saw adults demeaning her. I never want to see another girl go through this again.”

The defense and Spanial argued about whether she was telling the truth, and Judge David Strong ultimately chastised the defense for being argumentative with the witness.

With her testimony, the state rested its case. After the jury was dismissed for lunch, the defense moved for a directed verdict, where the judge would direct the jury to rule not guilty.

“For the purpose of gratifying lust, the state has to prove the defendant’s purpose is to satisfy his lust,” defense attorney Robert Lenoir said.

The defense argued that the state had not adequately proven lustful intent. District Attorney Dee Bates referred to the interview between Capt. Byron Catchings with the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office and Davis that was played for the jury the previous day. In the interview, Davis told Catchings that he thought the alleged victim “wanted him to look at it” when he pulled her pants.

Strong said the question of lustful intent was for the jury to decide,  and the defense’s case was allowed to begin.

The defense called several of Davis’ family members to the stand, who all testified to Davis’ character. Many of the prosecution’s witnesses also said they had liked Davis in cross examination, including the alleged victim.

Davis’s sister, Vicky Laird, testified that to her memory, Spanial never spent the night at her grandfather’s house and was never alone with Davis.

Davis’s daughter,  Stephanie Davis Jordan, testified that she’d had several children come to her house growing up and never heard a complaint.

“There was always a friend wanting to come home with me,” she said.

“He was like a pawpaw,” she said of the children on his bus route. “He has grandchildren, so he treated them like some kind of grandchild.”

Davis, in his testimony, denied grooming the alleged victim.

“I brought treats to a lot of children,” he said. “It ain’t but gum or something like that.”

Davis said he told the girl not to tell anyone he had touched her because he was scared. When questioned about Spanial, Davis said he loved his sister — Spanial’s mother — more than anything in the world.

“I can’t remember that far back, but I don’t hardly ever remember her staying over at mom’s,” he said.

The prosecution pointed out in the cross examination that Davis did not deny anything the alleged victim said about him touching her.

“Why in the world would you tell Catchings that you thought she wanted to seduce you?” Bates asked Davis.

“I ain’t real smart or nothing like that,” he told him. “I told Byron that because I wanted to get out of there. If I knew he was taping me, I wouldn’t have said anything.”

When Bates told Davis that he must have had a good grip on the girl’s pants to pull her panties down with it, Davis only said that he had a pretty strong grip.

“Why?” Davis said. “We were just playing around.”

The defense said in its closing argument that his client was easily led and it wasn’t fair to convict him because of that.

“Mr. Davis stops his story at least three times with nothing more to say until Catchings adds another element,” Lenoir said. “He’s somebody, I don’t think he knows what he’s saying sometimes.”

Lenoir also argued that Davis’ behavior was inconsistent with someone who had lustful intent. Davis had backed the bus into the driveway so that the windshield was clearly visible from the road, and called the parents immediately after it was clear no one was home.

“Mr. Davis loves children, and I’m not ashamed to say it,” Lenoir said.

“Does he have a problem when interrogated? No doubt,” he said. “I don’t have the answer to every single thing that happened here, but I do have the answer to this. The state cannot prove lustful purpose beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Bates argued that Davis called the parents to see how long it would be before they could arrive.

“I have three daughters. I don’t want this old geezer educating my daughter about sex or what a pervert is,” Bates said to close. “Hold people responsible for their actions.”

There was a sigh of relief among Davis’ family later as the jury returned a not guilty verdict.